Explorations in 2013

Find out about scheduled missions to our solar system neighbors this year.

August 12
The next lunar mission is scheduled for launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. From lunar orbit, LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) will study the Moon’s surface environment, particularly the powdery dust that coats it. The dust could prove harmful to future human explorers.
October 8
The Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft will fly about 300 miles (500 km) above Earth, using the planet’s gravity to boost its speed by more than 16,300 mph (26,000 kph). Launched in August 2011, Juno will arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. The craft will measure Jupiter’s gravitational and magnetic fields to help scientists map its structure and composition.

Ongoing

Mission Target Arrival
Curiosity Rover Mars 2012
Cassini Saturn 2004
Messenger Mercury 2011
Venus Express Venus 2006
Mars Odyssey Mars 2001
Mars Express Mars 2003
Opportunity Rover Mars 2004
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mars 2006
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Moon 2009

Have we visited all the planets in the solar system?

Yes, space probes have visited all of the eight official planets of the solar system.

Here is a listing of the planet visited, most recent spacecraft, and year of visit (or year the mission ended):

  • Mercury -- Messenger, currently in orbit
  • Venus -- Venus Express, currently in orbit
  • Mars -- Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, currently in orbit
  • Jupiter -- New Horizons, 2007
  • Saturn -- Cassini, currently in orbit
  • Uranus -- Voyager 2, 1986
  • Neptune -- Voyager 2, 1989

Are there plans to return to the Moon?

President Barack Obama canceled NASA's effort to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020, so no new American Moon missions are likely. China has indicated an interest in sending its own explorers, known as taikonauts, to the Moon in the next decade or so.

In preparation for future manned exploration, the Space Agency had launched several robotic missions to map potential landing sites, map mineral resources, and hunt for possible water at the lunar poles. Future missions in this effort are likely to be cut as well.

Will we ever visit other stars?

The prospects for interstellar travel are quite daunting, primarily because stars are so incredibly far away. The nearest star lies more than 24 trillion miles away. At the fastest speed our spacecraft currently attain -- around 100,000 miles an hour or so -- it would take almost 28,000 years to get there. Even at only five percent of the speed of light (an unimaginable engineering feat of almost 34 million miles an hour), the trip would still take almost 82 years, with an equally lengthy return trip.

Our best bet may be to build an enormous colony-type spacecraft capable of sustaining a crew for the decades necessary to reach even the nearest stars. Others believe the distance problem may be avoidable altogether through some exotic twist of physics, such as traveling through a wormhole. While either of these plans might seem unlikely at the present, hope springs eternal among scientists and astronomers. Given adequate time and resources, perhaps an interstellar journey does in fact lie in our future.

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